Weight Loss and Maintenance by Al Coon

"There is unfortunately a lot of confusion on goals and what we are actually aiming for. Most Americans...buy a book on the "latest diet," and jump in. This is about as far as their planning goes, and it only leads to a dead end. "

"Our real goal is not a static event with a "finished line," but rather it is a dynamic process, requiring continual effort."

" ...reaching your goal weight is meaningless, unless you stay there. Your goal cannot therefore be to reach goal weight! "

Al Coon Goal and Goals

Acting Without Planning—Getting in Your Own Way!

Panic kills! Many, many people have died over the years because they were caught in a crowd when panic set it. Suddenly the entire group, acting like a startled herd of buffalo, unthinkingly responded. They rushed to the doors, blocked the exits with their accumulated mass, and then climbed over each other—killing one another in an effort to get away from what was terrifying them. Sadly, this has happened many times, even when the perceived danger didn't even exist. On other occasions, nearly everybody in a building died because the exits were completely blocked early on, while the hungry flames did their worst. The best chance you have in such a situation is to keep your wits and act logically. But it is not the easiest thing to do.

You may not be in a panic to lose weight, but many people act as thoughtlessly about weight loss as they would act if they were caught in a theater when someone yelled fire. They suddenly decide that they are going to lose weight, and then they quickly jump into a diet, while hoping for the best. They are doomed to failure.

When you are starting a Weight Loss Journey it is no time to be in a hurry, even though it is the most natural thing in the world to want to be. We have had enough of being overweight, and we want to be thin, NOW! However, moving fast at this point will just trip you up.

To be successfully completed, any complex task requires planning, and reaching your goal weight, and then remaining there, is a very complex task. It is going to require planning: lots of it.

If you check into a motel in a town that you have never been to before, and you need a few things from a grocery store, do you just hop in your car and drive? If you drive really fast, how long will it take you to get there? You could be driving for a very long time, because you don't know where the store is. Speed doesn't help a bit if you are pointed in the wrong direction.

Study the Map First!

Incorrect action can in fact often be worse than no action at all. It not only moves you in a potentially wrong direction, but it also wastes the time that you could have been spending on moving in the right direction.

When you take a trip, whether it is to a store in a new town, or across the country, you must first set a destination. Then you can identify its location and, using a map, plan out your best route.

Goal: Destination or Milestone?

There is unfortunately a lot of confusion on goals and what we are actually aiming for. Most Americans respond to the fact that they are overweight with: "I need to go on a diet." When they suddenly make the decision to lose weight, they do exactly that. They buy a book on the "latest diet," and jump in. This is about as far as their planning goes, and it only leads to a dead end.

Part of the confusion lies in the term goal. We have all heard someone say something like, "My goal is 140 pounds." In a way that is like saying, "My goal is 100 miles." What is wrong with these "goals?"

As they stand, neither of them meets the requirements of a true goal. In both cases, they are merely part of what could be a real goal.


  1. Be specific

  2. Be measurable

  3. Have a time element: a deadline

  4. Be realistic

  5. Be challenging

So while 140 pounds, and 100 miles are things that could be part of a goal, they are not goals. Here is how you could use each of them in forming a true goal:

My goal is to reach the weight of 140 pounds (specific and measurable), in 12 months (time element), starting from the weight of 185 pounds (realistic and challenging).

My goal is to walk 100 miles (specific and measurable), in 30 days (time element). (Depending upon personal physical condition, and available time, this could be both realistic and challenging).

While the first of the two goals above is a real goal, and it is related to weight loss; would it qualify as your weight loss journey goal? While a goal weight is something that almost anyone who is planning on losing weight probably has in the back of his mind, reaching that number is not our goal. We could reach that number and still fail in our journey!

The Weight Loss Journey's Goal is Dynamic.

There he is off in the distance. He is walking far ahead of you. You very much want to talk with him. You call his name, "Goal, wait for me!" But he seems to be ambivalent about the desired conversation. He keeps walking at his steady pace. Okay, since he won't come to you, then you have to increase your pace to catch up with him.

Even when you catch up with him, he continues to walk on at the same pace. What happens if you stop walking? Goal will soon be out of conversation range once more. You hurried up to catch him at first. Once you are even with him, you are able to slow down to walk at his natural pace. As long as you do that, you can walk side by side with him. However, if you stop walking, Goal will wander away, and you will have to run to catch up with him again, and again.

Our real goal is not a static event with a "finished line," but rather it is a dynamic process, requiring continual effort. The effort is well within our ability to give, but we must make that effort. Otherwise our goal will walk away from us. Our journey will continue for the rest of our lives. We do not "go on a diet," and then think we have fixed the problem, simply because we have attained some certain number on a scale.

Failure in a journey only comes in one package: QUITTING. Some people quit during the weight loss phase, and far too many quit after losing all the way to goal. In either case the failure is just as sure. The way to success is the reverse process of the one that leads to failure. Success is created by continually striving for your goal, even after you have reached your goal weight.

"Striving for what goal?" some might ask. "We thought reaching that weight was our goal!"

Setting Your Real Goal

Unfortunately, reaching your goal weight is meaningless, unless you stay there. Your goal cannot therefore be to reach goal weight! To help avoid confusion, it would have been better if the term "target weight" were used to describe the desired weight, rather than "goal weight." Unfortunately, at this point the terminology is far too deeply imbedded into our language to uproot it. So, we will just have to keep the distinction clear in our own minds.

To help to make things clear, let's state right here what your real goal actually is:

To healthily remain at your "goal weight" for the rest of your life.

It is the only weight loss goal that makes sense. We don't want to lose weight in order to buy new clothes that we can only wear for a few months before we outgrow them! We want to get down to goal, and then be able to wear the same sized clothes for the rest of our lives. If that is what we want, then our goal has to state that fact.

Creating a Goal: Just the First Step

A goal is a specified set of conditions that is desired, and that is to be strived for.

However, you can't just "do a goal," any more than you can "do a target" on a shooting range. A target is the focus of your activities but it is not an action in itself. Actions can bring you to your goal, but no single action is "doing a goal."

As an example, we all have a common goal: remaining alive. Just like our Weight Loss Journey's goal, it is an ongoing goal that never ends, as long as we live. We do not remain alive as an action in itself, but the goal drives us to perform many actions or tasks that result in our remaining alive. We breathe, eat, drink water, maintain conditions that are neither too hot, nor too cold, to survive in, avoid stepping in front of moving vehicles, and so forth. All of these actions combine to bring us to our goal of remaining alive.

"If I can't do a goal, what is the point of having one?"

A Goal is a Tool

A tool is something that you can use to help you do something easier than you could accomplish it without the tool. There are tasks that just couldn't be done at all without one or more tools to assist you. For example, building a modern house without using any tools would not be possible. Tools expand our capabilities. The tools that a civilization has created often are used to identify the level of advancement that society has made. (The materials that a given society used to make its tools can identify general levels of advancement: Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc.)

All tools require some skill in using them to their best advantage, and it is the same with a goal. We have discussed the fact that a goal must:

  • Be specific.
  • Be measurable.
  • Have a time element, limit or deadline.
  • Be realistic.
  • Be challenging.

A shovel is a tool that has definite parts. It has a handle that the operator holds onto with his hands. It has a blade that is sharp enough to bite into dirt, and rigid enough to pry chucks of dirt up from the ground. It has a ledge along the top of the blade for the operator to step on to apply his weight to the blade to increase the force on the cutting surface, helping to drive the blade into the ground. Each part is necessary, because each part serves a useful purpose, and the various parts' functions combine to make the shovel a tool that can effectively perform useful work.

The same is true of the parts of a goal. They all work together to perform the very useful task of inspiring us into positive, directed, and effective action.


Wanting to "get better at math," is a vague wish and leaves you in the dark as to what you can do to make it come to pass. However, determining to take a calculus course next quarter, and to get an A in it, is a goal. It is specific. It is not vague, and you are left in no doubt as to what you need to do to make it come to pass. The details of the daily class are not yet known to you, but you do know where the school is located, and where to get all the information that you need to make this goal a reality. There is no doubt in your mind as to what this goal is exactly.


Making a goal measurable is in reality just a "special case" of making the goal specific. Part of the specificity of the goal is being able to identify not only when you have completed your goal, but also how far away from your goal you are at this very minute. In our math related goal of taking a calculus course, we can identify what the last day of class is, and from that we can determine how many days must pass until we reach that date. Also, we know what our test and homework scores have been, and can check with the professor at any time to get a progress report on what our grade is, to determine how close we are to getting the "A" we are aiming for.

These two measurable qualities of our goal will allow us to adjust our scheduling to allow for class attendance and study time. It may lead us to getting some extra help in the form of a tutor, if our grade is not yet at the level that we are going to achieve.

Remember: with a realistic goal we do not need to use the word "if" in describing the outcome. We are going to achieve it, because we are going to marshal as many of our resources as we need to in order to bring it to pass. Our goal is going to happen, because it is realistic, and we are highly motivated to make it happen.

Having a Deadline

A useful goal must have a deadline. Humans naturally tend to procrastinate, and I know that if I don't have a specific time that something must be completed by, I put off doing it. This is a problem that goals address by having a deadline. In order to accomplish the goal, you have to complete it by a certain date or time. This creates a high priority for working on your goal.

The reason that you set a goal is because it is something that you feel is IMPORTANT for you to accomplish, and the deadline allows you to put it in front of the merely URGENT things in life.

Small matters, ones that you will forget about completely in a few days, or even in a few hours from now, often present themselves in the garb of an urgent matter. This is highlighted by the old adage, "It's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil." Yet, it may be that putting oil on that "squeaky wheel" may take the time that you should have used to do some other vastly more important maintenance on your cart, causing it to break down inconveniently.

Just because something is noisy doesn't mean that it is deserving of your time right now. Having a goal in place can help you push the noisy, relatively unimportant, things in your life aside to make room for that which is truly important to you. This change of priority can be priceless; as it helps you achieve that which you most desire.

Deadlining a Perpetual Goal

What about a "never ending goal"—one that goes on and on? How do you set a deadline for one of those? If your goal is to remain alive, an ongoing, and dynamic process must drive it. You never will complete achievement of the goal. Instead you have a moment-to-moment perpetuation of the process.

You know that you have to take a breath within a few minutes. You have to drink water within a few hours, and you must eat within a few days. If you fail in any of these tasks, you will miss your goal. With this type of goal, you must go from day to day, and focus on your daily goal-related activities. If you do well on one day, you have reached your goal for that day, allowing you the opportunity to try again the next day.

In a similar fashion, the weight loss Journey is a moment-to-moment perpetuation of a process. This highlights the need for sub-goals that will support the Primary Goal. By piecing together the correct assortment of sub-goals, you can achieve the Primary Goal, even when it is a dynamic, on-going goal. (E.g. breathing every so many seconds is a sub-goal of the Primary Goal of remaining alive.)

Unfortunately, the unending aspect of the Weight Loss Goal trips up many people. They are confused into thinking that their goal is: to lose x amount of weight. So, they feel that they are done with it once the weight is lost. It is like having the Primary Goal of taking a few breaths, drinking some water, and then eating a single meal. That will keep you alive for a short period of time, but if you quit after reaching that goal, you will soon cease to live. Our goal is not to lose weight, but rather it is to maintain our weight at our target weight for the rest of our lives. In a similar way, our goal is not to take a few breaths, etc., but rather to continue to live our lives out to at least our "average life expectancy," or perhaps even beyond.


Since a goal is there to inspire us into doing something positive, it is important that it be realistic. Our goal must be within reach, and not be so difficult that it forces a feeling of failure upon us. Like a map, a goal provides a "direction in which to drive." A well-constructed goal doesn't get you where you want to be by itself, but it does tell you where that place is, and how to get there. Once the entire path to your goal is clear in your mind, you then KNOW you can accomplish it, provided your goal is realistic.

If you can clearly visualize yourself performing every step necessary to accomplish your goal, you have already mentally reached it. Being able to physically perform the steps then becomes a very sure thing.

How much is too much? I have seen many individuals set weight loss goals of two to three pounds per week. What is wrong with that? It isn't realistic to start with. (Also, many experts feel that one to two pounds a week is the maximum that you should lose during a healthy weight loss effort.) Why set yourself up for failure? Also, what is the rush?

It is far more important to meet your goals during your weight loss, than it is to have really tough goals, or to lose weight very quickly.

Let's examine how a realistic goal works in your favor, and an unrealistic one works against you.

Situation One Goal: I will lose two to three pounds per week.

When you weigh-in the first week after starting your program, you find that you have dropped three pounds. Great! You met your goal.

The following week you show a 1.5-pound loss. Oh no! You have missed your goal. You feel like a failure for doing so badly.

The following week you only show a one-pound loss. This is dreadful; you have missed your goal for 2 weeks in a row.

Every time you lose less than two pounds, you feel like you did something wrong. On those weeks, you will get no feeling of satisfaction from meeting your goal. It will be nearly impossible to exceed your goal on any given week, and you will almost certainly fail to even meet your goal on many weeks. Even though you are losing weight, you will feel like a failure, and you will be setting yourself up to become discouraged; sadly, you may even give up.

Situation Two Goal: I will lose one pound per week.

When you weigh-in the first week after starting your program, you find that you have dropped three pounds. Wow, you tripled your goal! You feel really great that you did so well.

The following week you show a 1.5-pound loss. Super! You surpassed your goal for the second week in a row!

The following week you show a one-pound loss. Wonderful! You met your goal again. You are right on track and feeling great about your progress.

Every time you lose one or more pounds, you feel like you are a complete success. You even exceed your goal from time to time, and even if you fall below it on occasion, all of the successful weeks will carry your positive attitude forward through them. As long as you are losing at all, you will feel like you are making great progress. By simply picking a more realistic goal, with exactly the same results on the scale as you had in Situation One, you have greatly increased your positive emotional results.

Situation Three Goal: I will healthily remain at my "goal weight" for the rest of my life.

You have no weekly weight loss goal. Instead your goal is to eat in such a way as to assure your long-term weight loss and weight maintenance.

When you weigh-in the first week after starting your program, you find that you have dropped three pounds. You are very happy to see this! You feel really great that you have already gotten such good results. However, your greatest feelings of satisfaction come from the fact that you ate within your program each day during the week, and you met all of your other daily goals for nutrition, water consumption, and exercise. The results on the scale only reinforce the very positive feelings you already had for how your week went.

The following week you show a 1.5-pound loss. Very nice! Once again, the scale reinforced your very positive feelings about how your week went. You are building your confidence mainly upon how well you have remained true to your daily goals.

The following week you show a one-pound loss. You are feeling really in control by now. You are meeting your daily goals, and the scale is showing some concrete results.

However, even if you have a week where you don't lose anything, or even show a small gain, you are still meeting your goal!

This is a critical distinction. In Situation One, and in Situation Two, you will not be meeting your goal unless you actually lose weight each week. But when your goal is defined so that it is based upon what you can control each day, rather than what the scale says, you can meet your goal every week, no matter what you weigh! When the scale shows a loss, you are motivated even more, but your primary source of motivation comes from your continuing to be on program day after day.

By controlling that which is in your power to directly control, you are cutting your emotions free from the whims of the fickle scale, which measures muscle and water exactly the same as it does fat. You have taken the success of your Journey away from the hands of Fate, and put it within your own hands.

A goal can be made realistic as much by the reference it uses, as it can be by the numbers it is shooting for. If you set your goal to target daily adherence to your program, rather than a number on the scale, you will find that you will no longer be "throwing dice" each week, hoping that the scale will "be good to you." You will know whether or not you met your goal, by the fact that you did the tasks that you needed to do throughout the week. If the tasks are within your power to do, and you do them, you have met your realistic goal.


The final attribute of a goal, being challenging, is something that Euclid would have called "a self evident fact," or an "axiom." There is no point in setting a goal for yourself if you would have accomplished it in the normal course of events without setting the goal. A goal will be something that you have to work at and something that you will feel good about having accomplished. However, beyond that, the challenge serves a purpose all its own. By overcoming a challenge, you will build a feeling of success that can be called upon to accomplish even greater things in the future!

It is often said that "success breeds success," and the greater the challenge involved in whatever you are successful at, the greater will be the reservoir of inner strength that you will be able to draw upon for future challenges. Overcoming challenges is very good for the soul!

Your Long-Term Goal

Let's return to your long-term Primary Goal:

To healthily remain at your "goal weight" for the rest of your life.

It is specific: To healthily remain at your goal weight. How you define this will be an individual decision. It is not possible to weigh exactly the same day after day. However, it is possible to remain below a certain weight day after day.

I dropped below my Primary Goal weight of "200 pounds" in September 2001, and I have not weighed over that at anytime since, day or night. My personal goal of 190, I fell below in December of 2001, and I have not had a single one of my daily morning weigh-ins rise above that weight since then.

I will cover the "how-to" details of this process in a later article. However you choose to define "remaining at your goal weight," as long as you remain consistent in how you view it, this is a specific goal.

It is measurable. You step on the scale daily, weekly, or monthly, and you check your progress. Either you are at your goal weight or you are not.

It is time related. However, the time element is dynamic. In reality your goal is recycled every weigh-in. You weigh, and then you proceed to follow the steps to your goal until the next weigh-in. It is cyclical. Just like "remaining alive," you are always simultaneously striving towards your goal, and accomplishing your goal.

This is a realistic goal, as long as you pick a realistic goal weight. If the weight you chose is one that your body can naturally adapt to, you can remain at that weight for the rest of your life, by using the tools that you develop as you work towards your goal.

It is challenging. If it were not a challenging goal, we would all have been there long ago, all on our own. Clearly, this is a challenging goal, and one that will provide you with a real sense of accomplishment that few other things could rival.

The Onion Quality of Goals

Yes, goals can make you cry, especially if they turn out to be unrealistic, but that is not the characteristic of onions that I have in mind. It would be useful to remember that a major goal is a complex system of layers, just like those in an onion.

In order to accomplish any complex goal, it will require numerous steps to be taken. In our case, there is no single step that you can take to be at goal for the rest of your life, any more than there would be a single step you could take in order for you accomplish the goal of remaining alive for the duration of your normal life expectancy. Instead the process has to be broken down into, if you will excuse the term, "bite-sized" chunks.

To be complete, a goal must have the path to accomplishment embedded into it! A properly constructed goal is not only a statement of where you want to be, but it will include a method for how you are going to get there. It takes effort to put all of this together, and that is why so many people skip this critical step when setting their goals.

An onion feels quite solid to the touch. You can squeeze it fairly hard and it will resist your efforts. However, it is not one piece. It is layered, and it gets the support for the complete outer shape from the inner layers. Peeling off one layer at a time you find that an onion is a complex system, with each layer supporting the one outside of it, and receiving support from the layers inside it. A well-formed large goal is built the very same way.

When putting together your large goal, it will be easiest to create various partial, or intermediate, goals (layers), which will lead to the main goal. For example, if you were a precocious child, you might have the goal of acquiring a PhD in physics. You would then naturally have the intermediate goals of completing: elementary school; high school; the requirements for a BS in physics; the requirements for a MA in physics; and finally the requirements for a PhD in physics.

Please note that each of the intermediate goals would have sub-goals as well. There are years of study that go into accomplishing each intermediate goal. At a lower level, each individual year has its own goals as well. And those sub-goals are supported by even more goals. When all the layers are complete, you have attained your Primary Goal.

A Layered Overview of Your Goal

There follows a quick overview of your Primary Goal, and some of the possible sub-goals that you may set for yourself. Many of these items will be covered in much greater detail in later essays.

  • Primary Goal: To healthily remain at my "goal weight" for the rest of my life.

    • Supportive Goal: To healthily move my weight from where it is today to my optimum weight.

      • Sub-Goal: To determine what a healthy "optimum weight" is for me.

      • Sub-Goal: To organize my eating for weight loss.

      • Sub-Goal: To daily drink a healthy amount of water.

      • Sub-Goal: To daily get in a healthy amount of exercise.

      • Sub-Goal: To create a system to track my progress.

      • Sub-Goal: To locate a method for establishing and maintaining long-term motivation for my Weight Loss Journey

      • Sub-Goal: To develop a system of support for my Journey.

      • Sub-Goal: To develop a method of accountability to measure progress.

      • Sub-Goal: Other...

    • Supportive Goal: To maintain my weight at my "goal weight" for the rest of my life.

      • Sub-Goal: To create a range of weights that I will strive to remain within for my weigh-ins

      • Sub-Goal: To organize my eating for weight maintenance.

      • Sub-Goal: To daily drink a healthy amount of water.

      • Sub-Goal: To daily get in a healthy amount of exercise.

      • Sub-Goal: To create or continue my system to track my progress.

      • Sub-Goal: To locate a method for establishing and maintaining permanent motivation for weight maintenance

      • Sub-Goal: To maintain a system of support for my Journey.

      • Sub-Goal: To maintain a method of accountability to measure progress.

      • Sub-Goal: Other...

The Most Rewarded Work You Will Ever Do!

When you build a goal, by filling in all of the necessary layers, you are creating a set of plans—just like an architect would do for your dream house. If you do the work well, when you are finished, you will have a list of all the things you need to do in order to reach your Primary Goal.

In the "Layered Overview" above, I have listed goals, and sub-goals. They form the inner framework for your Primary Goal. It is like the steel girders you see when a huge building is being constructed. They give the shape, and supply the strength to the building. However, by themselves, they do not form a completed building. We must still lay the floors, put up the walls, and ceiling. The windows need to be installed and electricity, water and telephones must be routed. Our goals have yet to be completed, even though they have been listed.

The final step, just before we actually start working on achieving our goal, is to identify the tasks (things that we actually can do) that are required to accomplish each of the goals on our list.

In order to organize our eating, we have to know how much food per day we can have. We have to know how many calories various foods have, and which foods will give us the right nutritional ingredients for our health. In other words, we have to acquire knowledge that is related to what we are trying to accomplish. We will usually have to acquire new skills as well.

Here is where we plan our course. Every bit of work we do here will be rewarded many times over later on. We have built the framework by identifying our goal objectives. From here on, we know exactly where we are going. We not only have the major destination defined (our Primary Goal) but we have also lined out all of the major landmarks (sub-goals). Now, through building a task list, we will complete the goal package, and be ready to walk confidently to our goal!

If it is important enough to you to complete your goal package, and actually create your list of goals, sub-goals, and supporting tasks, you will be in a position of power and confidence from which you can reach your goal in the easiest way possible. Thinking and planning is hard work, and anyone who says otherwise is not being straight with you. However, there is no work you can ever do that will repay you so handsomely!

When you know that you are driving the shortest possible route, and that you are bypassing all of the wrong turns and detours, you have a trip that is a joy to take. When you know that you are always headed in the right direction, your frustration is held to a minimum. Whether you are faced with toll roads, highways that are potentially clogged by rush-hour traffic, and other potentially troubling situations, pre-planning will make each of them as painless as possible, and often remove the problem altogether. (E.g. driving through even the biggest cities is very easy at two or three in the morning!)

If you want to make a difficult thing easy, plan it out in advance. Building a well-constructed goal will make your Journey as easy as it can possibly be.

Copyright and disclaimer

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Disclaimer - - This essay is not meant to be a substitute for any professional advice, guidance, or counseling. We are not doctors. Any information contained hearin reflects our own opinions and experiences. It is not intended in any way to serve as or take the place of medical advice from a physician.